Enabling reintegration for inmates back into society

Fr Dr Peter Salew at his office at Don Bosco Centre, Dimapur. (Morung Photo)

Fr Dr Peter Salew at his office at Don Bosco Centre, Dimapur. (Morung Photo)

Fr Dr Peter Salew’s Prison Ministry is working with inmates of Dimapur Sub-Jail and Central Jail

Mongsentong Longkumer  
Dimapur | April 22

Providing compassion and kindness to strangers can be challenging, especially in a society rife with problems for each individual to deal with on their own. However, there are some individuals galvanised by personal motivation or a higher calling to show the way for others to live a positive life anew, through love and concern for them.

Fr Dr Peter Salew, SDP, Director of Don Bosco Youth and Educational Services (DBYES), is one such individual who has dedicated his work towards the betterment of the lives of prisoners, incarcerated at Dimapur Sub-Jail and Central jail. 

He has initiated meaningful ministries, in the form of providing skill training in computer application, organic farming, and poultry rearing, to help inmates reintegrate back into society. Further, he has donated a 3000-liter capacity water purifier as well as ceiling fans for inmates at the Central jail. 

In order to get a clearer understanding of his works, The Morung Express had an exclusive conversation with Fr Peter at his office located in Don Bosco Centre, Dimapur. During which time, Fr Peter shared that he immediately took it upon himself to begin his mission work after being appointed as the Director of DBYES in 2019. He went about by attending to the inmates of Dimapur Sub-Jail, under the umbrella of the Don Bosco Prison Ministry. 

He said that Christ is among the foundational inspirations for the prison ministry, quoting: “I was in prison, and you have visited me,” (Mt 25:26). He stated that St Don Bosco began his pastoral ministry by visiting prisons in Turin, Italy. Based on these belief structures, Fr Peter said “I am passionate about the prison ministry that I carry out in Dimapur.” 

During 2019, Fr Peter’s ministry would regularly frequent the district jail on Sundays. Praise and worship, games, and entertainment were organised by the Salesian college brothers as well. 

At the same time, Fr Peter would initiate a poultry rearing project as a way to keep the inmates ‘meaningfully occupied and to empower them to learn a new trade.’ He noted that “the purpose was that once they come out from prison they should be able to earn their livelihood in a dignified manner.”

However, their interaction with the inmates ceased during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, due to health safety issues. 

By the beginning of 2021, as things slowly began to limp back to normalcy, Fr Peter was permitted to further extend the ministry to the Central jail as well. He managed to convince the prison administration to convert an empty plot of land into an organic farm for the inmates to cultivate. “They were enthusiastic about the whole thing,” he said. 

“The whole process was such an enriching experience and when they know that we are sincerely working for their welfare, they tend to become more approachable,” he said. As for his views towards the inmates, he said “I’m not there to judge them for their actions, the law will take its course, but I'm here to help them in whatever way I can.” 

The organic farm cultivates cucumbers, spring onions, ladies' fingers, pumpkins, Naga king chili, etc. 

Fr Peter meanwhile shared a heart-warming incident at Dimapur Sub-Jail, where one of the inmates, imprisoned for over 14 years, joined the poultry rearing program and became quite good at it. “As he was doing poultry business before his incarceration, he was so enthusiastic about the whole process,” he noted. The inmate has promised to meet Fr Peter when his sentence ends. 

“People might forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you will make them feel,” said Fr Peter quoting Maya Angelou.   

Besides the Prison Ministry, he notes that they also reach out to migrant youths from the other districts of the state coming to Dimapur and street children. Fr Peter has recently been appointed as a member of the advisory committee for prison welfare by the Ministry of Home Affairs, GOI as a Non-Official Visitor (NOV). 

He meanwhile stated that the cooperation from prison officials has been positive and encouraging. “I enjoy a very good rapport and association with officials at both the prisons. Because of this mutual support and trust I can carry out some meaningful initiatives in the prisons,” he added.

On whether products made by the inmates are sold in the market, Fr Peter said “as far as I know, they have not developed a regular market outlet where all their products can be outsourced regularly.” 

At any rate, he mentioned that he is currently looking into this aspect and has been contacting some educational institutions to buy these products regularly. “Some encouraging responses have come forth with some heads of institutions. Besides, some good and practical suggestions have been offered in this regard by some well-wishers and friends,” he noted.  

Fr Peter furthermore admitted that at the end of the day “We all belong to the same human family.  Prejudices and judgemental attitudes never make a person become better. Respect and understanding go a long way in transforming a person. In every person, there is always some good about themselves. Everyone makes mistakes, but we should give a chance to that person to repent and be reformed.”